I am a sexually self-aware woman who took a risk recently, and the result was genital herpes.
Take it from me. Assume any new lover may have a sexually transmitted disease until proven otherwise. Eighty per cent of our population have cold sores. Twenty per cent have below-the-waist cold sores.
Most of the one in five people who have genital herpes don't know they have it. Some had an outbreak years ago and think they can't spread it: they can. Some have outbreaks but think they can't spread it between outbreaks: they can. Some have cold sores and don't realize they can pass herpes from their mouth to someone's genitals: they can. Some have mild symptoms and don't know those symptoms are herpes.
Once I told the new guy I was seeing about my diagnosis, I found myself unceremoniously dumped.
I call the local support group because I badly need help in the "how-to tell-your-prospective-lover" department.
I leave a message, and Tom calls back. I tell him my sorry tale, and he says in the gruff voice of the kind of guy I'd never want to date, "If he dumped you because you had herpes, he was there for the wrong reasons."
I immediately judge Tom as a person who assumes everyone is looking for a long-term, committed relationship, and that means "Love me, love my herpes."
I so badly want to say, "But Tom, I don't want the right reasons. The wrong ones are really, really good!"
I relay this phone conversation to my cousin/confidante as we walk her dog in the cemetery, and we both laugh.
"I'll have my say once I join the group," I say. "I'll be like the woman in the movie Jeffrey who joins a 12-step and says in her best 'come-to-me' voice, 'Hi, I'm Sue, and I'm a sex addict,' and everyone is immediately her friend!
My cousin and I laugh some more, but my humour is my cover and I still feel like a bit of a leper as I try to come to terms with my current status.
When the night of the orientation meeting rolls around, I take the philosophical route. I tell myself this is just another of life's challenges and that where one door closes, another opens. Who am I kidding?
I can't even find the door in the building we're due to meet in! And then I meet Tom in real life and discover how wrong I can be about a voice on the phone.
He's a good-looking self-proclaimed "former womanizer" and far from being someone I'd never want to date.... Well, you can guess the rest. Other people start to arrive: pretty girls and one beautiful blond divorcee who tells a very sad tale of deception by a man she trusted.
I'm the only just-diagnosed newbie. And I'm the only one of the newcomers accepting the diagnosis even remotely well. But I am somewhat like Tom - I've had a lot of fun, and this is my cross to bear. I know as I sit there with the support group that this will force me to practise safer sex, and in some ways that's okay.
After the meeting, the newbies and long-time members go for a beer, kinda like my cousin does with her hockey team after a game.
Tom continues in the vein of "you'll be able to sift out the guys who are just trying to get into your pants - the assholes" and I say my piece.
"Tom, supposing they're not assholes. Some people are very risk-averse. They're not bad people; it's a choice they've made about how to live their lives. They don't take risks with money, or with extreme travel, and they're certainly not going to risk their health. And they're not assholes just because they want to have sex without making a commitment.
"What's wrong with a connection that will last a few months or however long it takes to run its course? What if I don't want any commitment and I like the 'wrong' reasons?'"
The women nod their agreement. Ellen says, "Yes, Brad would have been my first fling."
And Anna says that just having male company is a good thing.
They aren't happy to have lost their prospective lovers. Tom's view goes down the tubes, but he doesn't seem to mind. He's sitting in a bar surrounded by six gorgeous, horny women. I know without a shadow of a doubt why he's been a volunteer with the organization for 10 years!
I feel very good afterwards. I e-mail my cousin, "Caite, if you'd been there with me tonight you'd be wishing you had herpes just so you could keep hanging out with these great people!"
When one door closes, another door opens. It's true.